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Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Serenity

I just don’t go to the movies anymore.

This statement has just got to kill my brother, who works in Hollywood, but it’s true, and maybe if I lay out my reason he can forgive me (by the way bro, thanks for adding me to your friends list.)

It’s not the pain of laying down the eleven bucks, or multiples thereof if I take the family. It’s not the fact that the type of movies that I like just wouldn’t interest anyone else in my household. It’s more rooted in the blockbuster mentality that has taken over the industry. You see, since I got taller than my Dad (circa 1981), I’ve never wanted to go see a movie in the first month after it was released, let alone the opening weekend, because back in the 80s movie theaters still only had slight slopes (and no cup holders), and I was rather particular about where I sat. I wanted the very middle of the theater, and I wanted nobody sitting in the two rows behind me, and I wasn’t very good at getting there way early to get my preferred choice. Back in those days, a 195cm (6’5″) tall person could make a significant impact on the view of somebody else, and I always felt guilt about that. So I would wait a bit for the audiences to thin out, and then I could stroll in and get what I wanted.

But you can’t get that anymore. Nowadays, a month after release, plus a week or four because I don’t keep track of these things very well, and the movie is gone. I missed it.

Since I took my underage daughter to see Underworld as a treat (now that’s a story in itself – she loves vampires and werewolves, and for treating her, I was rewarded with two hours of Beckinsale in that leather suit), it has crept into my mind that theaters have changed – but it’s too late. I have been conditioned. And I have lost out by it, because I don’t have 16:9 hidef widescreen at home, and I actually love movies; but still, I often don’t see a good one until it has hit the pay channels, and since I don’t schedule my life around tv, I often miss those. And since I’m too little interested in appeasing my own desires (reference above over-consideration for other moviegoers), I don’t go rent them, either.

So it’s not surprising that I missed Josh Whedon‘s Serenity. I know I’m going to incur the wrath of the Browncoats by admitting this, but I missed the original series, heard the buzz last year before the film and recognized that it was something that I would probably like – a lot – also missed the SciFi channel revival (I tried, but Fridays nights are really bad for watching tv at home), actually watched the RTam Sessions online, and still missed catching the film in theater. Which puts me square on the Browncoats’ hit list – I was an intended target audience, but I didn’t contribute in any way to bringing the show back.

But I happened to notice that Serenity was on Cinemax this month, and instead of my usual dawdling, when I got the chance, I went to the OnDemand and watched it. Three times in the last two days. That hasn’t happened since I discovered Twelve Monkeys (another long story, invoking How I Might Have Been Able to Prevent a Suicide, but Missed the Chance Due to My Ineptitude at Reading Other People’s Emotions.)

Of course, I loved it. Was fascinated by it. This from a guy who kept a picture of Clint Eastwood in his locker while he was in the Army (don’t kid yourselves, it’s all the same theme as a spaghetti western), thrived on Roger Zelazny (the hero who actually overcomes his tragic flaw), was exposed to Tolkien in the fourth grade, and was a huge fan of Blake’s Seven in the late seventies as a preteen. Of course I loved it.

For all of you out there that feel the pain of only having eleven episodes of FireFly (fourteen if you bought the DVD), be jealous of me, because I have yet to see them. But take comfort, because I’m going to ran out and get that DVD, and in short order, I’m going to be joining your ranks – the desperate, the deprived – and will be doing what I can to bring it all back.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Posts About Me at 00:31 PST

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Monday, July 3rd, 2006

Personal Update

There’s been a few blog-worthy events in my personal life the last week or two, but I haven’t had much of a chance to post, and I’ve squandered what little time I’ve had on privacy/technology/political/medical issues. So I may as well try to blurt out as much of it as I can in one post.

Item:
After finishing up a reread in May of one of my favorite books ever, Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, I decided to retackle his intimidating three volume set, The Baroque Cycle. I had started the first volume after Stephenson signed the copy that I had waited outside the bookstore for on the first day of release, at (purchase and signing) that great independent bookstore in San Diego, Mysterious Galaxy. However, I wasn’t able to complete it because of a Significant Event in my life around Thanksgiving 2003; and the book went up on the shelf, to be later joined by signed first editions of The Confusion and The System of the World. Normally I’m a fast reader, and up to that point in my life I routinely read a novel a week, and found additional time to keep up with Newsweek, Discover, and the odd nonfiction book. But Stephenson’s works are something to be savored, lest you miss some clue to the Great Secrets that are hinted at. I just finished the last tome, and looking back, I was amazed to see that it had taken me two months. All this time it has been a real chore when writing to avoid Capitalizing Important Words to convey Emphasis, in the seventeenth century style that he mimicked, but for the occasion I’ll let a few slip through. The story was engrossing, and although it didn’t reveal as much as I had hoped it would, it has really piqued my interest in that period of history. I can only hope for many more from Neal, but the obviously intense amount of preparation and effort that must have gone in to his last efforts leads me to believe that I will have to be patient. Meanwhile, while going through my usual stocking of pertinent and helpful links for this post, I stumbled across the postcyberpunk article at Wikipedia, and see there a treasure trove of similar books that I can seek out. (As usual, I think the literary analysis is overreaching, but then, English majors have to have something to do.)

Item:
Last weekend, I took Chelsea and Boo up to my brother’s place in LA to catch my mother in town, visiting from Massachusetts, and because June is the big birthday month at their house. On Saturday we caught the tail end of my nephew’s second birthday party, and on Sunday we all went out the Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park. Boo was in heaven. Not only was he playing with other little boys (our neighbors only seem to have produced little girls), but he got to see an impressive model railroad set, climbed up on real steam locomotives, and rode the miniature train. My brother and sister-in-law are just experts at getting out of the house and finding someplace to go that is genuinely enjoyable, more often than not educational, and never a crass, touristy commercial venture. I don’t know how they do it, but kudos to them.

Item:
I got a letter in the mail this week from Chelsea’s school. She was hoping it was her semester grades (should I be suspicious about how anxiously she’s waiting for those to show up?), but it was a report on how she did on her first attempt at taking the CAHSEE, the California High School Exit Examination. There’s been a lot of controversy here in California of late: after many legal battles since this graduation requirement became law in 1999, the Class of 2006 finally became the first to have the requirement enforced. Some 47,000 seniors did not get their high school diplomas last month because they didn’t pass the test.

Chelsea, as a sophomore, on her first try, passed both portions of the test – English and Mathematics. I am so proud of her. Did you get that? I Am So Proud Of Her. Are you sure? I AM SO PROUD OF HER.

Item:
After what has seemed like years of waiting, I got a new computer at work. True, I gave up my slot six months ago with a strategic decision that I was getting by on available resources, and by deferring my gratification I would probably get a better machine. But in the beginning of June I received a Dell Latitude D610 laptop with docking station. It’s certainly not cutting edge, and I could have gotten far greater performance by opting for a desktop, but portability is a significant factor – I’m tired of not having my normal tools while I’m traveling. It sports a 1.73 GHz Pentium M, 40 GB hard drive, DVD/CDRW, and, of course integrated stuff that people take for granted nowadays, like a stronger wireless link than any plug in card that I’ve ever tried; and Windows XP Pro. The only performance bump that I asked my old friends at IT for, and received, was a full gig of 795 MHz RAM instead of the standard 512K. I joyously unpacked it, plugged it all in, took a look at it, took another look at it, took a real good look at it, and left it to sit on my desk for a couple of weeks.

I don’t think I’ve been the recipient of a new computer since my TRS-80 Model 100 back in 1983. Since then, at home and at work, I’ve received hand-me-downs, or built my own out of whatever parts were laying around. Later, at home, I was able to spurn used components, and assembled machines after calculated performance vs. cost appraisals of each piece and patiently waiting for the right sale. So it was a bit of a shock to see what comes pre-installed in a new computer nowadays, plus the applications deemed essential by the IT Department. I started off, when I got the time, by assiduously documenting the details that I considered important (because I was going to change them) – the processes and their starting states, and a list of all the start-at-boot applications. I also set up tables to document the changes I was going to be making in the environment variables, registry edits, and applications I was going to install. But the rest of this story belongs in a separate, technical post. For now, it is sufficient to note that after an hour or four of tweaking, I took the (to me) plodding little minivan and turned it into a somewhat respectable sports car.

Item:
Thanks to Google Adsense, I’ve started making money from my blog! In May, I earned 14 cents, less than the amount Google transferred into my checking account just to test the direct deposit. In June, I earned a whopping $3.12! Thanks to whoever clicked on the Get Firefox link! Hmmm – I don’t know that I’m ready to give up my day job yet.

Item:
Yesterday was my twelfth wedding anniversary.

Item:
Today is my 41st birthday. I don’t feel older than I did at turning 40. I took the day off (most other people at work also used their floating holiday to turn this into a four day weekend), and got a surprise breakfast in bed from Chelsea (semantics, but I don’t sleep in a bed), but otherwise limited my celebration to not really doing much, and not feeling guilty about it.

Well, that’s going to have to do it for this post. I feel better for getting a few things off my chest, and I’m sure I will remember later some more absolutely essential things that I should have written about, but that’s what you get when you put things off.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Posts About Me at 23:18 PST

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Monday, June 12th, 2006

2006 Chargers Mini Camp

I took the kids on Saturday to the San Diego Chargers Mini Camp. We had gone last year and really enjoyed it, although I had found Chelsea’s enthusiasm a bit surprising. Boo enjoyed it as well, and it’s gratifying to hear him trying to say “Football” and look excited about it – his older sister has been doing her best to get him excited about marching band and color guard.

Mini-Camp is a showcase practice and training session, and is the first chance for the public to get to see the new draft picks and free agents. The big thrill for me is getting up close to some of my favorite players – Luis Castillo, Igor Olshanksy, Shawne Merriman, and Steve Foley (the defensive line practices real close to the crowd), and to see all the others doing drills and running through some downs. The receivers were doing a great job, especially McCardell, Osgood and Floyd, but what we were all hoping for was some signs of brilliance in our secondary. Our new shining hope, Cromartie, obviously has skills, but was outclassed. Jammer was looking pretty good, though. Darren Sproles is just freaking amazing, and two another surprise standouts were Matt Wilhelm and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila – clearly, there’s some real competition going on for linebacker slots.

Our new starting quarterback, Phillip Rivers, has a great arm, but we already knew that. What is far more important, and something we can’t see in a session like this, is how he’s stepping into the leadership role, but every Charger in the news lately has been full of praise for him. This speaks well of both Rivers and the team unity. Ever since A. J. Smith decided to let Drew Brees go and floated Donnie Edwards for trade, two immensely popular players, I’ve been concerned that the Chargers might start cracking up, but they look to be holding together really well.

I started last session with a lot of excitement, thinking that 2005 was going to be our year, but we didn’t even make the playoffs due to a series of crucial mistakes that resulted in a string of narrow losses. I haven’t gotten over that, and this year I’m just not as excited. Maybe the threat of the Chargers leaving San Diego is hanging oppressively close now. But going to Mini Camp got my juices going, and I saw a lot of reasons to be hopeful again. Man, it’s such a long time until the season opener!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Football at 05:23 PST

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Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

Struggling with Fedora Core 5 Upgrades

No, folks, I’m not dead.

I have been struggling at home, trying to get my second box connected to the wireless lan with Fedora Core 5, trying a lot of things without getting a repeat of the one time I got it all up and running. In a break from this, I used the yum upgrader to update all my packages on the FC4 box I normally use. However, this upgraded SeaMonkey, my browser, and I lost all the extensions that I have come to rely on so much. Rather than mess around retrieving and reinstalling all these, I decided to upgrade the FC4 to FC5. This turned out to be a little tricker that I thought it would be, because the FC5 installation dvd detected my multithreading processor and installed the smp kernel. Trouble is, the rt2500 drivers for my HWP54G wireless card don’t work with the smp kernel. Then I tried hand installing the single processor version from the dvd using rpm, but rpm kept detecting the upgraded FC4 kernel I had installed, and refused to replace it with an older version kernel. I finally went to the source and got the lastest single processor FC5 kernel and installed that. Now, although I can build the rt2500 drivers, I’m having trouble detecting the card.

So this is keeping me pretty busy, but I’m learning an awful lot about the Linux file system, sources and modules. I might even have to recompile my kernels to get things working. Fascinating stuff. But in the meantime, I’ve been posting on the technical forums and neglecting my blog.

So sorry, Mum (my most regular visitor.) The baby is potty training, and being rather cheerful about it. Chelsea’s been getting excited about learning rifles next year in Color Guard. I have entirely too much work to do, and we’re still looking to hire new engineers. I recently reread Cryptonomicon, and I’m taking another crack at getting through The Baroque Cycle.

And I’m getting a very regular repeat visitor from Milton Keynes in the UK (or so my geolocators tell me.) Drop me a note and say hi!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Hardware & Drivers, Networking, OS at 23:14 PST

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Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

Arrival in Minot, ND

Current meatspace coordinates: 48.206° N, 101.316° W

I’m here for the week to survey the cathodic protection on the fueling systems at Minot AFB. Of course, there’s an unannounced exercise going on that will restrict our access to some areas that we need to test. I can’t complain – the needs of the military outweigh the needs of their civilian contractors. I just hope that we can get in in a couple of days, and that we can accomplish the necessary testing without delaying our return.

It was a hectic weekend – the closing of my daughter Chelsea’s Winter Guard season, and yesterday was the Championships. Her team finished fifth out of eighteen teams in her division. With a party Friday night, driving up to Fontana, and a dinner afterward, I was either involved or watching the baby, and I didn’t finish packing my stuff and my testing equipment until two hours before I needed to get up to go to the airport. With such an eventful weekend, there’s been plenty of “I need to put that in my blog” moments, but now I’m just exhausted. Northwest Airlines busted my equipment case, but I already had problems with some of the specialized pieces that I have been trying to diagnose and fix (I brought a soldering iron). I traded my smoking room reservation for a nonsmoking one that included a refrigerator and microwave. A couple of days ago, I had checked the long range forecast, and it had said highs of 19-25°C with possible rain on only one day, so I packed a lined rain jacket and, just to be safe, threw in some heavier long-sleeved shirts (I’m very partial to short sleeves).

About half an hour ago I stepped outside for a smoke. It was snowing. Welcome to North Dakota.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Posts About Me at 20:45 PST

1 Comment »

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

Dear Reader

A visitor to my blog recently read my announcement that my site had been promoted to PageRank™ 4 and took the time to comment on my post, congratulating me and asking for tips. I always appreciate it when somebody comments on my blog, especially someone I don’t know IRL; to me, it’s like someone walking up and asking how my kids are doing.

I’ve learned that it is a bad idea to answer a comment with another comment – you can get into some interesting conversations, and it usually gets bypassed by other casual visitors because very few people actually click through to see the comments on a post. So when someone takes the time to post a comment, I want to respond as publicly as my little forum permits.

From what I’ve gleamed from my searches on the topic of search engine optimization, blogs have a natural advantage in the way that Google watches a website and assesses its PR. Google doesn’t like new sites appearing overnight with lots of outgoing links and plenty of incoming ones – it smacks of the sort of enterprise favored by spammers and SEO merchants. Search engines work when they find the results that their customers like, not what online mercenaries want them to find. So Google watches over time. They’re looking for sites that are updated on a regular basis, are judicious in posting links to other respectable sites, and acquire a steady and growing influx of links from other respectable sites. Too fast and you’re suspicious; too slow and you’re boring. It’s an assessment process that’s tailored, intentionally or unintentionally, for favoring independent blogs. You’ve really got to wonder how much credit for the rise of the blogosphere in the last decade, with its attendant growing respect from mainstream media and increasing access to newsmakers, can be attributed to the way Google assigns PageRank™.

And I don’t think it’s an unfair advantage. People turn to the technology of the Internet for information – it’s the modern equivalent of the the evolutionary importance of a steady food supply – but human beings are incredibly social animals. Given the choice between downloading pure information from an inhuman, unemotional source or having to return for dollops of earthy wisdom dispensed with some personality, I think the vast majority of us would take the latter every time. We can’t process huge amounts of information rapidly anyway, and I think that that the relationship between teacher and student is very significant in the progress of learning – for both participants. Blogs impart knowledge with personality, and I think people like that. I love listening to CarTalk on NPR for the self-deprecating humor every bit as much as the practical and useful knowledge they impart about my major means of transportation. Hell, I just love the way Tom and Ray laugh. It makes me feel good, and I keep coming back for that feeling, not because I have aspirations to becoming an auto mechanic.

So I’ve divulged my prejudices. Content is, of course, very important, but unless you’re aspiring to become a mass market media outlet, I think you should place very high importance on style. No, wait a minute – even them. Trust your instincts. I’ve tried to make my website look appealing to me, with a good balance of aesthetics – color, font size, the occasional graphic; and tried to make my efforts towards functionally unnoticeable. It leans towards the utilitarian, true, but I’m not a flashy guy, which I think is conveyed in my writings, so the visual theme fits. But then again, I even use html email occasionally, so I clearly have some concern for appearance. Correct spelling is essential, as is grammar. Grammar, I’ve found, is dialectical, so think about the way you want to construct your sentences and just stick with it. Tell everyone who criticizes you for it that they are snobs: then, as soon as you can, go look it up, and look for a consensus.

Traffic analysis is very helpful. Look for who came to your site, how they found it, including search engine and search terms, and whether they poked around a bit or left after the first hit. Try to imagine what these people where looking for and evaluate your site to see if it needs improvement for usability and interest.

I enjoy writing about technical issues, and I actively promoted that interest by searching for other sites that discuss the same issues, especially forums. If I felt I had something to add, I joined in and posted a link back to my site, and I’ve seen consistent traffic from those links. Get in touch with webmasters with similar interests and seek out mutual linking. It’s also important to be aware of where your visitors are coming from, and to consider the cultural contexts. It has encouraged me to talk in SI units, for instance, which I grew up with.

In closing, I’d like to say how pleased I am to be contacted by a member of the Oldham Cricket Club. Since I moved to the US and found it extremely difficult to watch quality cricket, I’m afraid I’ve degraded into becoming an avid American football fan (Go Chargers!) I still get excited, though, when I catch the odd ODI on late-night sports tv. I have very fond memories of watching my maternal grandfather, who was the wicketkeeper for the Highett Cricket Club in Victoria, where he was active for some 40 years. As a child, I was incredibly impressed by his hands – each finger was as thick as a banger. I’ve always wanted hands like my grandfather’s.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, My Website at 12:17 PST

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Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

Supplicating to the Hershbergers

Dane and Rayna Hershberger found recent posts on my blog that seemed to get them mightily indignant, based on his and her comments, which absolutely horrified me, because they’re my favorite IT people on the face of the planet, and I would never want to offend them. I’ve calmed down some from my initial panic because the first thing I did was pick up the phone and call them, as Dane expected.

Dane said he found my site by Googling his own name (something I’ve done on a regular basis since I discovered Google, and a practice I highly recommend if you have any concerns at all about privacy. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has an even more complete list of research you should do on yourself.) I guess getting mail from me in the past with an email address ending in this site’s moniker just didn’t pique his curiosity.

I guess my characterization of the reaction to Linux on the part of most Windows-certified network engineers is based primarily on my experience of their disdain, so I wasn’t surprised to see the MS-minion flavor of their comments, but I was hurt to think that Dane felt he needed to defend the work he put into almost single-handedly creating Corrpro’s WAN. He shouldn’t feel that way, and he should in no way interpret any comment I make as a criticism of his efforts. For the record, I think he, Rayna, and the other folks at the old Corrpro IT department (which was replaced by outsourcing to IIG, which has since been bought by TechniSource) did an awesome job, even without considering how few personnel they had and how hamstrung they where by limits on equipment and software expenditures. I think that if they wrote a book or a website about the experience, it would make a great field reference for other oppressed IT professionals to use as a guide.

Still, I’m not surprised that when the TechniSource folks came in, looked at the existing setup, decided that they had a lot of work to do “building an Enterprise class infrastructure.” Their position is probably flavored by their experience as consultants, coming into existing networks of all different types of configurations, and apparently they have the influence with Corrpro’s refinancing specialists to leverage the investment that the Hershbergers didn’t. I don’t know enough about the nuts and bolts of setting up a WAN to understand it all, so there’s no way I can judge (or even know) what they’re trying to do. I am, however, surprised that they consider the expired security certificate on the intranet site to be a low-priority item.

One thing in my postings that I will attempt to defend is my justification on why it did no harm for me to attempt to set up a Linux client on the MS network. I asked to do it on my own time and virtually without support. The only questions I was asked of IT was how their setup was configured – stuff like the name of the Kerberos realm, and why my Windows client always got the same ip address when it was set to DHCP. I don’t have network administration privileges, so nervousness about any damage I could have caused only reveals insecurity about the fundamental soundness of the system. When I couldn’t get my Linux client to require me to authenticate as system user with my first attempts, I backed off from the haphazard guidelines I had found on the Internet and set out to read and understand the entire Samba manual – all 900+ pages of it.

As to the question to I am so often confronted with – Why? I guess you had to grow up with Windows to be ignorant of the fact that some people have never used it and don’t want to. It’s for all practical purposes a different language. The GUI was stolen from Apple, who stole it from PARC, so there’s nothing new there. I had used several different operating systems before Windows was ever released, and I wasn’t impressed with it at all when it came out. Win95 came out before I stopped using the command line interface all the time on my 3.1 machine. I ran NDOS on top of my older DOS machines, so I didn’t see much advantage in point and click, especially when it crashed on a regular basis.

I’m willing to admit that Linux may have just as many security holes in it as Windows, but when you’re assessing risk, you have to factor in the probability of vulnerabilities being exploited, and the Windows vulnerabilities are too many and too well known. It’s one place in particular where the open-source model shines – vulnerabilities are published, and the patches are often available later the same day. Microsoft, if you’re lucky, will wait at least until their next monthly cycle, and there are plenty of known problems that have been sitting out there for months, going on to years. When I have to use Internet Explorer, I feel like I’m walking around naked with a “Do Me Up the Rear” sign on my back. For the bottom line on systems security, I’d have to defer to the opinion of the world’s biggest consumer of high-end secure systems – the NSA. What do they use? Hell, they wrote SELinux.

In a corporate environment, the whole idea of IT boils down to productivity. If I’m more productive and creative using Linux, why shouldn’t I be allowed to use it? Graphics design and art production houses would shudder at the idea of giving up their Macs because it’s what their people know best. As open-source solutions gain more and more acceptance, you’re going to see an increasing number of talented people who can crank work out on a Linux desktop, but fumble around in the dark when confronted with Windows. I’ve run across several applications that only work in Linux, and I’m going to start actively looking for them in preparation for my planned project request for my own IT Steering Committee. Open-source solutions have been embraced by such luminous names as IBM and Sun Microsystems, and governments around the world are trying it out. IBM has a redbook on migration to Linux that gives a great analysis of the reasons a corporation should consider doing so. If anything, voices like mine are driving the lumbering MS behemoth to be more responsive, and a good free-market conservative should be able to see that.

My little enterprise was along the lines of a pilot project, independent and self supporting, so I think it’s unfair to level criticism against it as opening the doors to anarchy. I guess I don’t see the case for uniformity. What are we trying to preserve? I’m not talking about changing the system, just the way I interact with it. I can provide my own hardware and driver support. All systems users are not equal – I’ve never manned a help desk, but I can see that. There already is a class system for users out there (and 90% are peasants!), and the systems have already been built to accommodate that. Even support systems are multi-tiered. In my small office, we have four different operating systems currently in use, all MS, each with its own quirks. For years, I couldn’t print in landscape to our color printer from my NT 4.0 machine, so I had to go to a different desktop to print charts. Yes, drivers are harder in Linux, but if you work at it, you can generally get things to perform, and you always learn something in the process. One thing I was offering was to write the howto on connecting a Linux box to the existing network. Based on my incoming and return traffic to my wireless card documentation, I think I’ve earned some credentials there. The beauty of the open-source system is that you can get a lot, and it only takes some people putting some back for it all to work.

I could get really worked up about all this, just as my esteemed friends could as well. I think both sides make valid points, but if we sink into debating the relative merits of our cases, we’re wasting our time. Everything is evolving faster than we can prepare our talking points, and the reality on the ground is not going to be changed by anything we say or do. In twenty, thirty, or a hundred years, the MS way might be looked back upon the way we look at the 19th century railroad companies today. I’m going to stop writing and go back to figuring out how to get my Prism2.5 chipset working under Fedora. Dane and Rayna can continue to shake their heads; I just hope they’ll still like me and keep in touch.

P.S. I put in a link to GreatMountain. Keep an eye on your PageRank!

P.P.S. If you guys used Mozilla, you could take advantage of the great SpellBound extension!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, My Website, OS at 23:44 PST

1 Comment »

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Hectic

I’ve been incredibly busy over the last couple of weeks, trying to accomplish quite a few feats in my personal, professional, and linux-user lives. And they have all seemed to overlap.

Personal:

Professional:

Linux-User:

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Networking, Posts About Me at 17:25 PST

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Sunday, February 26th, 2006

Malware/Virus Removal

It’s been a long time since I really went all out to clean up a Windows machine to remove malware and viruses. I forget my first virus (I’ve been downloading free software since 1983), but I remember my first spyware well – it was early 2001 when I noticed a new entry in my HKLM\​Software\​Microsoft\​Windows\​CurrentVersion\​Run, which turned out to be TimeSink. While researching how to get it cleaned out (which I finally did) I stumbled across the whole spyware problem. Shortly thereafter I encountered a similar problem with WebHancer, and fired off an email to my network administrator, who responded that he didn’t think it was a problem worth dealing with, because the outgoing traffic would be stopped at our firewalls. A little more than two years later, the same net admin wrote me to ask my opinion on spyware removal tools. In the interim I had discovered various applications on several machines in my office and had gotten some practice at removal, and would get more, until it got to the point that if I couldn’t clean up a machine in an hour I boxed it up and sent it back to corporate for an OS reinstall. My boss couldn’t condone the lost billable time I was spending – any IT functions I perform around the office are purely for our convenience – I’m supposed to be just an engineer.

But last week my wife complained that her favorite online game, Planet 8 Ball at Uproar.com, was running very slowly, and finally on Friday it quit running at all. Now, I haven’t been too pleased with my wife and her friends downloading and installing both offline games and online ones that require installing ActiveX objects – they are big potential sources of both spyware and viruses, but I figured that I had everything set up on my home machine pretty well to keep it clean. I just can’t train them to install stuff where I want it to go – there’s enough stuff in C:\Program Files and I would prefer to see games installed in their own directory – C:\Games. I’m lucky when these installers don’t place themselves in the root directory, which I like to keep very clean. However, I am pleased to see my wife doing stuff online – I figure it makes her more tolerant of the time I spend online myself. Every now and again I run Spybot and AdAware; I use AVG Free for antivirus with realtime protection and daily full scans (a little annoying in that the free version can not be set to ignore my archive of potentially useful trojans!); and I routinely check my HKLM\​Software\​Microsoft\​Windows\​CurrentVersion\​Run key either through MSConfig or RegEdit. This is all out of habit – when I sit down at the computer I usually reboot into Fedora Core 4, and I’m starting to regard the Windows partition as a necessary kludge that I only maintain for my family.

So Friday I was tasked with getting her game running again, and I’ve spent every free moment this weekend trying to achieve that goal. I’m almost ready to concede defeat. I’ve pulled out virtually every trick in my arsenal – multiple scans with the aforementioned tools, plus Hijack This and Startup List from Merijn, CWShredder, and even RootKitRevealer. My hosts file is clean, and I’ve checked my traffic flows with Ethereal and been shocked – I mean blown away – with the traffic I saw even after Internet Explorer had been closed – and that was after I had cleaned the system! I looked up the ip addresses my machine was talking to at DNSStuff and used registration records to identify which applications were to blame. I removed multiple toolbars, browser help objects and ActiveX objects. And through all this, somehow I got something new in my CurrentVersion\Run key!

Of course, it might not be malware that’s stopping the game from playing, and it’s possible that my anti-malware defenses are the cause, but I have to clean the system first. Besides, it ran fine before. I’ve tried reinstalling Shockwave and I’m considering doing the same with Java.

Now, one of the things I found, or at least found traces of, is VX2 – a notoriously difficult infection to remove. Considering that I keep finding stuff after cleaning, this might be my problem. Hmmm – just found a VX2 plugin for AdAware – I didn’t realize that there were addons that I needed. I’ve also noticed that I have five svchost processes running, which is suspicious to me. I’ll have to check those out as per the Microsoft guidance. I downloaded and installed the augmented IE Add-On Manager, which is actually very nice – I could use something this clear for Mozilla.

*Sigh* All this work, and I’m not even sure that it’s malware that’s keeping the game from running. It just seems to be the most likely cause, though.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, OS, Software at 22:52 PST

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Friday, February 17th, 2006

Decision to Push Saint Victor’s Day

Last year I heard about Talk Like a Pirate Day from reading Wil Wheaton’s Blog; unfortunately, just a little too late to join in the celebration. I did, however, find the Talk Like A Pirate website. I just went back there to get the date so I could mark up my calendar – I don’t want to miss this year – and was reading the story of how the holiday started. I noted that TLAPD had a Wikipedia entry, and that it was categorized as a Geek Holiday.

This got my brain churning, going back to my high school days. A bunch of my geeky friends and I met regularly and we called ourselves “the Scanners” – a tribute to the 1981 cult classic. We were all huge Monty Python fans. Most of us had the entire script to Monty Python and the Holy Grail memorized, and at any moment one of us would quote a line from the movie and the others would immediately chime in, picking up the entire scene. Misquotes would lead to arguments, and debates about fine points were often settled by frame-by-frame analysis of the movie. Not surprisingly, none of us are now Senators, Members of Congress, or Titans of Industry.

Of course we listened to the Contractual Obligation album, and we loved the skit on the Martyrdom of St. Victor:

And it came to pass that Saint Victor was taken from this place to another place, where he was lain upon pillows of silk and made himself to rest himself amongst sheets of muslin and velvet. And there stroked was he by maidens of the Orient. For sixteen days and nights stroked they him, yea verily and caressed him. His hair, ruffled they. And their fingers rubbethed they in oil of olives, and runneth them across all parts of his body for as much as to soothe him. And the soles of his feet licked they. And the upper parts of his thigh did they anoint with the balm of forbidden trees. And with the teeth of their mouths, nibbleth they the pointed bits at the top of his ears. Yea verily, and did their tongues thereof make themselves acquainted with his most secret places. For fifteen days and nights did Victor withstand these maidens, but on the sixteenth day he cried out, saying: “This…is fantastic! Oh…this is terrific!” And the Lord did hear the cry of Victor, and verily came He down and slew the maidens, and caused their cottonwool buds to blow away, and their Kleenex to be laid waste utterly. And Victor, in his anguish, cried out that the Lord was a rotten bastard. So the Lord sent an angel to comfort Victor for the weekend. And entered they together the jacuzzi. Here endeth the lesson.

So we decided that Saint Victor’s Day was worthy of celebration. One of us looked up a calendar of saints and determined when there was an official Saint Victor’s Day, and when it rolled around we celebrated it and gave honor to Victor and his maidens of the Orient. There was even cake – an ice cream cake, which was emblazoned with the legend “Happy St. Victor’s Day”, much to the puzzlement of some worker at the local Carvel’s. This, I think, was in 1981.

Considering TLAPD’s humble origins, I’m thinking that the same thing could be done with St. Victor’s Day. I doubt I could get Dave Barry’s endorsement, but an entry in Wikipedia just might be enough to get things started. We were all pretty much geeks, and a holiday based on a Monty Python skit ought to meet the standard of Geek Holiday. The trouble is, when I consulted a calendar of saints myself, I found 15 Victors, eight of them with days, and I can’t remember which was the True and Original St. Victor’s Day that we celebrated. Unfortunately, our catholic calendar expert has since passed away, so I’m going to have to put a call out to all the old Scanners and see if we can reconstruct the first celebration: the date, where it was held, who was present, who missed it, and what we actually did. Hopefully, none of them will run of to Wikipedia to enact my idea.

Update: Here it is – the Wikipedia Saint Victor’s Day!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Posts About Me at 06:37 PST

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